As I sit in three lanes of thick, crawling traffic on the way to the city one morning – something I rarely have to do, thankfully – there’s always time to look at what’s going on around me on the roadsides. Strangely, traffic jams do sometimes give us headspace to just “nothing” and to be alone with out thoughts (providing of course we are not having a tantrum about the traffic). Most of us are intensely connected via our digital devices and being in our car is one time when we are (or should be) disconnected from anything but driving safely.
I see a boy of about five years old, wearing a Bat Man cape, holding his mother’s hand as they walk towards school. Impulsively, he stops and plucks a tiny flower growing from a bunch of weeds poking out from a rock wall. Just about everyone who walks by this unattractive wall would fail to notice this tiny little flower attached to a seemingly unattractive, brown grassy weed. I was pleased that his mother didn’t drag him away from his childlike curiosity. She talked to him and they went on their way together.
I got to thinking about how little time parents have these days when they are not connected to their smartphones, laptops or tablets whilst in charge of their offspring. When I had my son in 1999, smartphones were not yet invented, mobile phones were still fairly new and there was still lots of time.
And the result was, much more engaged time actually TALKING, teaching, showing, guiding and living in the moment with my young child. Even a simple trip on the bus would be a delightful half hour looking around at the things we passed, plants, trees, people, landmarks. This is how a child gets to know their community – by being made aware of it through their guardians.
The recent spate of child drownings and near-drownings in the press prompted me to write this article to spread the message ‘WATCH YOUR CHILDREN’. My father always said, never let them be more than arm’s length from you when they are very small. And how right he was. Anything can happen in a very short time. One distraction and your child may be under one of the many 2 tonnes of metal passing for “family cars” in the ever-busy carparks frequented by ever-faster-mover morons behind the wheel in small environments.
Recently, I was in the pool myself when a child about 2 years old appeared in the land next to me, in water 1.3m deep, unsupervised and unable to be seen by her guardian due to the old-fashioned design of the pool edges. I was not prepared to have an unsupervised tiny person potentially drowning with me anywhere in the vicinity, so I told her she had to get out of the pool and get her mummy. Off she went.
There are huge signs up everywhere at this pool outlining the various levels of supervision required for different age groups. Still, we see small children left to their own devices around deep water. If they cannot touch the bottom and have their head above the water, it seems to me negligent to let them play unsupervised.
So, back to smartphones. Are they a blight on the parenting landscape. Do children have to fight for their parents’ attention in even the most basic scenarios? How can parents even do their job when they are constantly able to distracted by messages, calls, Facebook posting (just stay there darling while I take a photo……..).
A few weeks ago I actually saw a small child walking the streets with her head in her phone – she was all of five. With their attention fully on something other than their immediate environment, I am concerned at the level of risk to we are exposing our young charges.
Parents of young children – enjoy every moment of their young lives. Cherish the times you have together rather than see everything they do as an interruption to your digital pursuits. The only reason I have my phone on is when my child is not with me, lest I need to be contacted . But as soon as we are on an outing or activity together, my phone goes off because THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE WORLD IS RIGHT NEXT TO ME.
So, Switch Off and Switch on to the Moment.